By NANCY SCHWERIN
CHAPIN — I was running down a long, dark hallway with an ominous red light at the end. I was trying to run away, but was being pulled back by the light. I awoke from the nightmare, startled by the fiery image I perceived to be hell, and decided to go to confession the very next day.
Upon further interpretation, however, I found that the hallway is a symbol indicating that I’m moving toward another step in my life; the darkness means I’m scared of taking that step; and red reminds me of my mother because it is her favorite color. Is the Lord calling me to motherhood?
“Dreaming is all about soul-making,” said Sister Caroline Smith. “We have an undeniable inner drive to become whole and be connected to the spiritual world.”
The Sister of St. Mary of Namur presented a workshop on “Scripture, Spirituality and Dreams,” sponsored by the Women Religious in South Carolina. The daylong workshop was held at Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Chapin on Saturday, March 10.
Sister Caroline has been counseling in dream work for 15 years and personally working in it for 20. The basis for her work can be found in the Bible.
In an early translation of the Bible, the Hebrew word “anan,” meaning “observed dreams,” was translated incorrectly to mean witchcraft. It wasn’t until the 20th century that the error was detected.
Therefore, according to the sister, dream work is making a comeback in the church as a tool for spiritual direction.
Sister Caroline follows the ideas of Carl Jung, who thought that dreams were inspired by an inner spiritual life.
One of the 160 participants, who has been practicing dream work for two years, was happy to hear a Christian connection to the practice of studying the unconscious.
Jung described the unconscious, or inner core, as the Self and dreams as messages from the Self.
“We could think of that Self as the image of God,” said Sister Caroline. “After all, we were made in the image and likeness of God, and it dwells within us.”
So the search for the Kingdom of God may be found through listening to the Self, which helps to move us on our journey to spiritual wholeness.
There are many ways to seek spiritual wholeness, said Sister Caroline, dream interpretation is just one way.
Dreams work in various ways. They constantly send us messages from the unconscious world, which is a place in which our feelings and experiences and external knowledge of the world is stored
Sister Caroline suggested that if we dream about a wicked mother, but didn’t have one ourselves, it’s because we know that they exist. We see and hear about violence and human atrocities every day. These images are stored in the unconscious.
The challenge lies in interpreting dreams.
But what about nightmares? asked participants at the dream workshop.
“Dreams are always on your side,” said Sister Caroline. The journey to the kingdom may at times be scary, she said. “Consciously tell yourself that the dreamer [your unconscious self] is on your side.”
During the process of interpretation, if the fear remains, she suggests seeking help to decode the dream.
Balancing dreams are the most frequent type of dream. Sister Caroline described a twin scale with God perched in the center and on either side are our opposites. Opposites are our masculine and feminine sides, anger and kindness, sensibility and wildness, for example.
She said, “Most of us are a little unbalanced. But we should seek to understand and accept both sides in order to be balanced.”
Dreams bring messages through symbols, which can be people, places, or animals.
A daughter dreaming about her father who passed away may be seeking humor in her life or comfort, if her father represents these things to her. The meaning of symbols can be any number of things and is different for every person.
Sister Caroline said that books that offer interpretations can be used as a resource, perhaps, but cannot interpret dreams for you. Only the dreamer knows the meaning of the symbols and images in their dream.
“The symbols are the keys to our soul,” said Sister Caroline.
All the symbols have meaning and follow a sequence like a book: setting, characters, plot, crisis, resolution.
“We need to figure out how the pieces fit together,” she said.
In dreams, dogs talk, the sky is purple and brothers have beaks; it’s nonsensical. Taking each symbol — dog, the words, sky, purple, brother, beak — may lay out a clearer understanding of the dream’s message.
Interpreting dreams is not exact and takes practice. The workshop incorporated the interpreting methods of Robert Johnson, author of Inner Work — Using Dreams and Active Imaginations for Personal Growth.
Beginning with a symbol, draw a circle around it and on the circle write all the words that you associate with the symbol. Then, try to identify with one of the associations. Typically, people have a revealing moment when one clicks with them. If not, move on to the next symbol. If you’ve gone through all the symbols and still nothing has clicked, then leave the task and come back later.
“The Self never gives up,” said Sister Caroline. “The dream will keep coming back until you accept it as part of your wholeness” — thus, recurring dreams.
If an association does click, then move on to step two, making a connection. Think of how the image is connected to part of you right now. Ask yourself what’s going in your life where this image may fit.
Step three is making a statement; Sister Caroline suggested a title may help identify a theme. Do several interpretations, finding the answer will involve moving the pieces of the story around.
“Dreams will always be about a conscious aspect of your life,” said Sister Caroline.
Interpretations will take time and research.
Sister Caroline was adamant about step four, celebrating.
“Celebrate what you’ve learned about yourself from your dream,” she said. “You must do something outwardly to acknowledge the dream.”
Recording dreams requires discipline. Keep a pad and pen by your bed; write in first person when recording and interpreting. Practice.
Sister Caroline suggested that those who keep an open mind and heart should easily find the road to dream interpretation. Honesty and believing in the power of dreams, she said, is imperative to being successful in dream work.